An Argentine Living the Dream in West Virginia

SEBASTIAN ARROCAIN

Being used to living in a city before coming to Bethany, a small town in West Virginia, already precipitates lots of changes in your life. Now, having that in mind, add the fact of moving to another country, and finding yourself in a completely different culture with different traditions and values

I am Sebastian Arrocain and, in this article, I am going to share why I decided to come to the US, and all the changes I experienced during my adaptation to the life here at Bethany College.

I was born in Chivilcoy, a small town where my whole family was raised. This town is in Buenos Aires. After being born there, my family moved to the main city and spent most of my childhood there, until we moved to Pilar. There you can find lots of private neighborhoods. There is a lot of green space in my area, and people can live a relaxing life and be near the city at the same time.

My home is forty-five minutes away from the main city, the “Capital Federal”. Most of the people who live in this area also work in “Capital Federal’, like my father who must drive through the traffic every week day. I have been in the city and also small towns and neighborhoods. I am used to lots of different environments and am definitely not scared to change and move from one environment to another.

Argentina is a country where you can achieve your dreams, and study, or practice the sport you love. But there you do not have the same chances as you have here in the US. In Argentina there’s a big difference between the social classes. In Argentinia 42 percent of the population lives in poverty, and 10.5 percent of indigency. Half of the population is unfortunately living in harsh conditions. Because of this, you can feel the insecurity in the streets. I am mentioning this to highlight how lucky some of us feel of being here, in a new country, with new possibilities, and able to live this incredible life, full of new challenges and experiences.

Soccer has always been my life. In high school I used to play in a club. I was there every day after school, either training or helping the head coach with the younger divisions. I trained Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 7:30 PM, plus coached for the younger kids on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:00 to 7:30 PM. My weekends where busy as well. I had soccer games on Saturdays with my dad and on Sundays with my club. I tried to continue with this life schedule after graduation but I had no other option but to choose between going to college or continuing going to the club every day.

I wanted to play, and practice as much as I could. The only problem was that back home, going to college and playing a sport at a high level is almost impossible to make happen. This was the main reason for my arrival to the US. Here college students can decide if they want to be just that, or they can be athletes at the same time. Practices and classes do not get in their way. In college you can do both. Studying and practicing were never something that I could do at the same time, it has always been one or the other. In addition to these two important aspects, you also have work. I have already mentioned how hard it was to put practice and studies together - imagine adding a third. Here I have the possibility to add that in my life too. Of course my schedule is full between these three things, but I still have free time to enjoy myself and my friends.

The possibility of living on campus makes it possible to work, practice, and study at the same time. The universities back in Argentina are not set up for that as they do not have a campus. If you are student, you are going to be still living with your parents. The university programs care primarily about academics. They do not pay attention to your housing, if you want to work, if you want to play a sport, or if you want to work. I believed that the main difference between the universities\colleges here, and in Argentina is that there they are not prepared to make those three work together because of the lack of infrastructure and money.

I remember when my father talked to me about coming here to study and play soccer at the same time. We were talking about some friends of mine who were already studying in the US. I was telling him about all the things my friends were doing here, and he saw that I was being passionate about it, so he asked me “Why don’t you want to do it?”. I never thought it was a possibility until right then, and I was kind of shocked by the question because there was no way I was expecting that. So, at first, I told him that I did not know if I was actually ready for it, or if I was willing to change my whole life and move to another country. I went to sleep on it. The next day when I felt ready, I told him that I was ready for it. After that talk, we started looking for companies that connect you with college coaches, which is how I met Coach Frankie who convinced me to come here to Bethany.

When I decided to come here, my friends and family were sad because of my departure, but happy at the same time because they knew I was going after my dream. Most of my friends believed that the college life was going to be like what they see in the movies. Of course it is not like that, even though you can get the main idea of it in them.

The first week or two, I was astonished with what I was experiencing. Living in a campus, with all college students, most of them athletes at the same time. I remember entering the cafeteria and some students were wearing their Bethany gear, some others with their own team equipment, and others just being casual. You could find tables that were already socially appointed to some teams. For example, everyone knew that the bottom part of the left table was for the soccer team. Other teams had their own spots too. These things started to feel normal shortly, but it took me a little longer to get used to the language.

I spoke Spanish my whole life. I was lucky enough to learn English as a second language at my high school, where most of my classes were in both languages. But speaking and writing in English for some classes was much different than having to live it. The first two month were hard. I was getting used to i  but I had no other option. Either I start talking or I was not getting to know the people here and socialize. With that pressure on my shoulders, I got loose quickly and lost my shame to pronounce or misspell words. The slang was a little bit harder to get, and today with more than a year here I still have some troubles, but I am doing good.

My first semester was short because of the COVID pandemic, but it helped me to adapt in some aspects of the life here. The weather was one of them. I arrived in January. The whole campus was covered with snow, and the wind was harsh. The cold was giving me a tough time. There were some students that were wearing just a hoodie outside, while at the same time I was covered with an Under Armour, a hoodie, a coat, and still feeling cold. It was the first time I experienced the snow. In Argentina the climate can get cold but never like that. I remember thinking I was going to love snow, but after the first week I was already hating it. I was getting snow all over my clothes and felt wet all the time. I think snow looks good in pictures, but actually living it is a whole different thing.

In my second semester I could finally be on campus for the whole academic calendar. The college had to make some arrangements due to COVID, but I could still have the experience I was looking for, and the most important thing was that I was finally able to train for soccer. After a long wait I was able to finally study and train at the same time. I practiced with the team four times a week. There were plenty of things that I did not realize at first that could be a difficulty for me in the sport. I am good at understanding English, and following instructions, but to do this while running, and being exhausted, and at a long distance was harder than I expected. I found myself several times lost in some exercises and needing to make the coach repeat the instructions one more time. I was not used to that; I was good at understanding everything quickly. But as with everything, I only needed to get used to it.

In my second semester I also got the job that I wanted to get since I arrived on campus, the Resident Assistant position. I always thought that suited me perfectly, and I believed that my perspective as an international student could bring a unique way of seeing some things. I had to pass two interviews with the Student Life Members. In both I felt relaxed and enjoyed them. At that moment I sensed I was getting the job but I was not a hundred percent sure. Student Life was looking for one person only and there were more than 20 students trying to get the job. After one week I received an email saying that the position was mine. First thing I did was call my mother because I was extremely happy, not only for getting the job, but also because with the money I earned from that position I was giving my parents a huge help paying for the college bills.

For the moment this has been my experience so far at Bethany College. After two semesters I am feeling proud of myself for deciding to come here, and live outside my comfort zone. As I mentioned before, it was a hard decision to make, but I am living the life I wanted, I am studying, playing the sport I love, and getting work experience every day.